POLITICAL ECONOMY AND ETHICS OF ECOLOGICAL PROBLEMS IN
NIGERIA: CHALLENGES TO ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT AND
SUSTAINABILITY IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM.
Oludare Hakeem Adedeji (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Department of Geography and Regional Planning, Olabisi Onabanjo University,
Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria
Klaus Topfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was
quoted by Andersen (2000) that ‘the cost of environmental degradation are enormous’. Such costs
include the economic, political, social and environmental cost of environmental degradation (both
natural and man-made) occurring in the different regions of the world. Environmental degradation
problems such as pollution, erosion (soil erosion, coastal and river erosion), gas flaring and oil spillage,
acidification and flooding are occurring at rampant rate and with varying degree of impacts in many
parts of Nigeria. For example the tropical rainforest (TRF) destruction has imperiled the forested regions
near the equator with countries such as Nigeria facing huge soil loss, siltation of rivers and streams, loss
of biodiversity etc. Nigeria, particularly the southern region have very sensitive soils and the region is
classified as a potentially problem area which acidification is likely to become a problem. Acidification
may cause much damage to sensitive components of the ecosystem e.g. the soil and vegetation which
forms the base resources.
Associated with the problems of environmental degradation is the deepening poverty, inequality
and social marginalization which have also resulted in diminishing human security. In various parts of
Nigeria especially among the rural dwellers, the pressure on the ecosystem and other natural resources is
increasing, with growing rate of unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and pollution. Poverty
and environmental degradation are linked in a vicious circle in which people cannot afford to take
proper care of the environment (UNEP, 1999). Poverty has been and remains a major cause and
consequence of environmental degradation and resource depletion. UNDP (United Nations
Development Programmes, 1997), estimated ‘about 40 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)
to live below the poverty line, and both income poverty and human poverty are increasing’
Government policies of economic growth and the collaboration with multinationals have
encouraged rapid decline in the state of the nation’s ecological system. The past military governments
have constantly depressed environmental activities and many activists even suffer attacks from the
government and armed militias often sponsored by multinationals especially in the Niger-Delta region of
The governments in the country are often intolerant about any public outcry or expression of dissidence
towards government operations towards rapid economic growth. Many of the ecological problems in
the country are part of what Seager (1993:5) called ‘the progeny of a very particular clusters of powerful
institutions acting in particular ways. These clusters are the military, multinationals, governments and
The aggressive and competitiveness of the nation’s economy coupled with long years of military rule
and mismanagement have increase the neglect for the good management of the environment. The
political economy has emphasised uncontrolled economic growth which neither worry about efficient
energy use or conservation of natural resources. Much energy is wasted during the production process
and nature’s diversity was relegated to the back and the plants that occupy the lands are generally of
lower quality and usefulness. Postel and Flavin (1991:171 in Brown, 1991) have stated that “no
economy can be called successful if prosper ity comes at the expense of future generations and if the
ranks of the poor continue to use”. We have come to the dawning realization that we are destroying the
capacity of our ecosystem to support life. Most activities going on in the environment are seen as
progress, but Herman Daly an economist at the World Bank stated that “progress” evidently means
converting as much as possible of creation into our furniture and ourselves. “Ourselves” means
concretely, the unjust combination of over-populated slums and over consuming suburbs.
The population has continued to growth rapidly in both the rural and urban areas and the country
has gained 55 million people from 1950 to 1990 and is projected to add 191 million people during the
next four decades and by 2030 to be about 278 million compared to the USA with a birth rate of 16 per
thousand and a death rate of 9 which yields a current natural increase of 0.7 per cent (Brown and Kane,
1995). Nigeria with many other African countries have emerged out of the HDI (Human Development
Index) by the UNDP’s Human Development Report, as a continent with extreme low level of human
development. Nigeria is among the four-(4) countries in Africa grouped in the low human development
categories about 79 per cent of the world’s total (UNDP, 1997).
Nigeria was also identified with a number of parts of the world including Bangladesh, China, Egypt,
Iraq, Mozambique that are being threatened by a moderate degree of sea-level rise (Myers, 1993: 194-
195) and other environmental problems which mat eventually displace people and perpetuate poverty of
the poor. Myers (1993: 191) also predicted that about 150 million environmental refugees may result by
2050 and these include those from Nigeria. Environmental degradation is seen as being increasing at the
roots of conflicts that feed back into most refugee movements in the country especially among the Niger
Delta people in Nigeria. Environmental pressure on marginal lands have caused a lot of degradation
(pollution of air, water and land, deforestation, acidification, gas flaring and oil spilling) making people
to abandon their means of livelihood. Often ethnic crisis results from fights over fishing stock in the
few areas not polluted. These people engaged in one conflict or another destroying properties and
killing each other.
Most environmental crisis relates to the disempowerment of local people, who can no longer participate
in resource management and are losing access to common resources because of their poor status.
Poverty, coupled with the rampant pollution throughout the Niger Delta region have driven the
Ogoni, the Ijaws and other ethnic minorities in the oil producing areas of Nigeria to demand
environmental and economic justice. Environmental justice brings to fore the issue of ethics in the use
and management of our environmental resources in Nigeria. Human ethics or values about their
environment and its associated problems is very important in the proper management of the environment
as it would shape and determine how policies and decisions are made on resources use.
The value of human beings and human dignity cannot be dissociated from the base, i.e. the environment
on which we are living. Unabated rapid population growth coupled with unethical use and conservation
practices are now lowering the standard of living for a large segment of the people. Unfortunately, there
is as yet a little recognition in the country’s political discourse on the threat posed by unethical economy
of the country in the new millennium. Global ethics is becoming a subject of hot debate at world
conferences on the environment and economic and it has not received much debate in Nigeria except a
few cases such as the Ogoni crisis with Shell Petroleum Corporation, Chevron, Agip and Mobil in the
In a world of social injustice, economic inequity, environmental degradation, conflict and human right
violations, people are asking more clearly than ever before what the role of companies is in the same
(Chandler, 2002). The role of Multi-national Corporation such on Shell in the degradation of the Niger-
Delta environment can be seen from the standpoint of lack of corporation citizenship or responsible
entrepreneurship. These corporations with assistance and most often inaction of the government are
reluctant to adopt the ethics of socially responsible environmental management in their activities.
Among the generality of the people in the country themselves, the ethics of caring for the environmental
are being eroded due to long year of poverty and lack of access to basic needs. Poverty, low agricultural
productivity and natural resources degradation are severe interrelated problem in Nigeria, which has
been escalated by the lack of social and environmental ethics in our resource management practices.
This paper intends to explore the most important dimensions of these issues effectively and examine
ways of finding solutions to the problems of environmental ethics in the nation’s political economy. The
study is therefore structured as follows: environmental ethics and political economy: a
conceptualization, political and economic issues in contemporary Nigeria, environmental problems and
management in Nigeria, social and environmental conflicts, scarcity of resources and environmental
ethics, challenges in the new millennium, and resolving the ethical problems to achieve sustainability in
ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS AND POLITICAL ECONOMY: A CONCEPTUALIZATION
The inability of man and his failure to relate to Nature – ecosystem with certain degree of respect is
most clearly reflected in the ongoing environmental crisis confronting countries of the world including
Nigeria. Both the industrial and agricultural revolution have brought about massive and large scale
exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of natural entities such as individuals, species and
Nigeria is not excluded from the environmental crisis of the world prompted by
accelerated demands and use of the natural endowment often without proper and adequate care. Care
for the environment in which we perform our economic activities boarders on the issue of environmental
ethics within the political economy.
Environmental ethics is a topic of applied ethics, which examines the moral basis of
environmental responsibility. By ethics we mean placing adequate values and principles that guide
human behaviour in the environment. In the world today, virtually every person would agree to the fact
that there is the need to be environmentally responsible in our daily activities. Environmental ethics
focuses on the moral foundation of environmental responsibility, and how far this responsibility extends.
Elegido (1996:5) suggested that ethics “is the discipline that explores systematically the conditions
conducive to a flourishing life” and a flourishing life according to Utomi (2001) does indeed involve
appropriate location of individual good, material or otherwise, in its full context. Elegido (1996:20)
argues further that ‘when we treat others (including people, animals and nature) as if they had no
intrinsic worth or dignity, we automatically reduce our own value in our eyes and lessen our self respect
and self esteem’.
Martins Buber’s philosophy of Dialogue (1943) studies the relationship which can hold between the self
and others where he identified the I-It and I-Thou relationships. The self in the I-It attitude is seen when
we interprete others as an It (insignificant and without value) and the self in the I-Thou attitude is seen
when we interprete the other as a Thou (significant and with value). Buber argues that the I-It attitude
“can never be spoken with one’s whole being” whereas the I-Thou attitude ‘can only be spoken with
one’s whole being: In the I-It attitude, the self relates to its image of the others instead of the other. On
the other hand, in the I-Thou attitude the self recognizes that the others has possibilities of its own
beyond those which the self expects or imposes, hence respecting the otherness of the other.
Buber was trying to explain the unhealthy relationship between man and nature, which have caused
many environmental problems in the world. The Buberian approach to environmental ethics is
anthropological in nature and it argues that human being is a relational being, and that the self who
relates to nature with respect has realized it’s relational and hence its human potential. Buber then
argues further that a successful foundation for environmental ethics has to fulfil two tasks: first it has to
be able to explain how humankind’s relationship with nature has degraded to the environmental crises
we face today; secondly, it has to explain how humankind’s relationship with nature can be improved to
one of respect.
The lack of adequate moral ethics and respect for Nature and other organisms with which man is
co-existing has rendered the environment degraded to the point of global concern. Nitin Desai, the
Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs – World Summit on Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, 2002 stated that “a global ethic of good stewardship to guide sustainable development is
crucial”. This is due to the fact that the development being pursued by various governments in both the
developed and developing countries thus far was not sustainable in the economic, social or
environmental sense. Sir Geoffrey Chandler (the Founder-Chair, Amnesty International UK Business
Group, 1991 – 2001) also collaborated this assertion by stating that “the world system is unsustainable
by any measure – political economic, social and environmental.
According to the words of Martin
Buber, “man is no longer able to master the world which himself brought about: it is becoming stronger
than he is, it is winning free of him, it confronts him in an almost elemental independence, and he no
longer knows the world which could subdue and render harmless the golem he has created… man faced
the terrible fact that he was the father of the demons whose master he could not become”.
The modern culture and technologies which man have used to improve his livelihood on earth is
seen as contributing to the degradation of the environment mostly because nature and its resources were
being used without respect or the recognition of its potentialities. ‘Man must abandon the belief that
the natural order is mere stuff to be managed and domesticated and accept that humans, like other
creature, depends on the web of life that must be disturbed as little as possible’ (McKibben, 2000).
Environmental ethics is an important and integral part of the political economy and we must give due
regard to such relationship. The political economic relations are super imposed upon and find
geographical expression at, a specific location (Blaikie, 1985:109). Most land degradation problems are
related in no small measure to the characteristics of the political economy. For example the planting of
crops can be an important factor in determining the degree of protection of the plant might give to bare
ground at the time of maximum severity of rainstorm.
In any society, the individual decision making units which is usually the household has a form of income
generating to fulfil some objective function. Blaikie (1985:110) stated that ‘these objective functions
will vary according to the social, political and economic circumstances of the household’. Household
used here may be viewed as units such as individual homes, logging company, private plantation,
corporation, a farm or state. The central assertion of the political economy approach to environmental
degradation is that degradations such as soil degradation and erosion directly result from cumulative
land-use decision through time and these political economic relations are thus intimately connected with
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES IN CONTEMPORARY NIGERIA.
Nigeria at the turn of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century has been consumed by
two passions: politics and economy. This is based on the fact that over 60 per cent of the population by
the UNDP’s (United Nations Development Programme) estimates live below the poverty line and that
over 50 per cent of the employable adults according to FOS (Federal Office of Statistics) are currently
unemployed or under employed. However, inspite of the recent promising developments that ushered in
democratic rule and political liberalisation, the country has been suffering under misguided and
mismanagement of high proportions at all levels of government. Often misguided political and
economic policies have combined with the rapid population growth to cause various civil strife and
environmental degradation affecting the poor masses.
Nigeria’s economic growth decline in the 1970’s as the oil boom ended and the government
have to resort to large scale borrowing in order to pay heavy import bills. The absence of economic and
political incentives rendered the country incapable of producing basic needs. Several billions naira have
being budgeted by the federal government to hasten political and economic development in the country
but the income distribution is highly inequitable and the growth in capital income do not benefit the
larger part of the society.
Although, considerable improvement have been made in reducing political
instability and the civil unrest in the country, (UNEP, 1999) stressed that ‘ these are themselves a
manifestation of intense competition for declining opportunities and resources’.
Emil Salim (2002) the chairman of the commission on sustainable development acting as the preparatory
committee for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Johanesburg September, 2002,
stated that current development efforts raise material wealth at environment’s expense. The policy
makers have failed to make necessary links between development and the environment.
Despite enhanced knowledge and techniques brought in by the globalisation of the world economy and
the democratization of the nation’s political system, land resources are fast depleting and environmental
degradation is increasing in both extent and severity. Political leaders in the country have always touted
economic growth as the answer or solution to the problems of unemployment, poverty, ailing, industries
and myriad of other societal problems including even the problem of environmental degradation. They
make decisions on the economy and politics of the country without any due recognition of the very
environment (space) within which such activities would take place.
Brown (1991) argued that ‘the economy is not isolated, it operate within the boundaries of a global
ecosystem with finite capacities to produce fresh-water, form new topsoil and absorb pollution. The
economy is a subset of the biosphere and it cannot outgrow its physical limits and still remain intact’.
Nigeria, a country of about 113.86 million people (PRB, 2001) as at 2000 is a major member of OPEC
(Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and a large exporter of crude oil. However, Nigeria is
still heavily in debt because of overdependence on the oil industry for export earnings and this leaves the
economy very vulnerable to market fluctuations. Economic growth has stagnated with uncertain
political terrain often disturbed by countrywide political crises. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in
2000 is $40.57 while the GDP per capita is N317 compared to other OPEC countries with over N5, 000
GDP per capita (PRB, 2001).
The oil industry accounts for around 80 per cent of government revenues and 90 per cent of
foreign exchange earnings. Adenikiju (1998) stated that the country earned in excess of US $200 billion
from oil exports between 1970-1990, but these have not been translated into good measure of economic
and political growth due to mismanagement and corruption. Vast majority of the people have
difficulties in getting access to resources, while the poverty and employment situation exacerbates the
fierce competition for the opportunities and the available resources. What we now have are continuous
degradation of the environment, and civil conflicts all over in the struggle for control of these resources.
Principally, the problems continue to persist because of the lack of social and environmental ethics in
our decision making and implementation processes.
A global ethic of good stewardship to guide sustainable development is crucial in the efforts to improve
on the global economy. It can be observed that there are many powerful social, economic and political
incentives within many less developed countries that promote resource depletion. Political
considerations often override the collective interest of the people as political leaders implement projects
just to score cheap political gains. Such projects do not always benefit the people and may even cause
considerable damage to their environment.
Tackling ecological problems such as coastal erosion and soil erosion have being politicized by the
governments. Adediji, (2000) observed, that ‘the engineers who are saddled with the responsibility of
designing control structures or measures for combating gullies often refuse to take advise from other
professionals and experts such as geomorphologists, climatologists, hydrologists or even pedologists.
These experts could have helped in the assessment of the soil characteristics and gully morphometry or
properties, respectively, at the erosion sites’. Decisions like this have led to the failure of much erosion
control measures in the country because such measures are based on inadequate information and
expertise. Several government agencies are presently involved in controlling ecological problems such
as erosion, deforestation flooding and waste disposal I Nigeria. Agencies Federal Ministries such as
Nigeria Agriculture Land and Development Agency (NALDA), Federal Environmental Protection
Agency (FEPM), Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Natural
Resources and Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
but are without any central co-ordination, hence there is the overlap of functions and inefficiency sets in.
Aina (1990:196) expressed that there are three cross-cutting issues that affect the nature of political
economic context of Sub-Saharan African (SSA) country like Nigeria. These are:
Inequality and Poverty.
Domination and Conflicts.
Unsustainable economic and social development process.
These three according to Aina (1990:196) are closely inter-related, often feeding on each other, and to a
great extent co-determining the vicious cycles of poverty, misery and environmental degradation
characteristic of many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The political economy is very vulnerable to
global economic crisis and the vulnerability of the economy also extends to the social cultural and the
ecological system thereby relegating environmental management social development and sustainable
development to the background. Accelerated exploitation of resources are encouraged as part of the
debt swap programme, which repressive policies are put in place to deter people from agitating for
social and environmental justice. People are alienated and lives are denied because environmental
management strategies do not take care of the poor people but only the rich and foreign investors. There
is the violation of access to the basic human needs identified by Abraham Maslow such as: safety, other
physiological needs, self -esteem and actualization needs.
For the past five decades in Nigeria, Niger Delta, billion of dollars worth of petroleum has been
exploited, however, the people of the region do not have basic infrastructural facilities such as good
motorable roads, safe drinking water, electricity, telecommunication facilities, proper health care
facilities, good school etc. They have to grasp with the environmental impact and health consequences
of several years of uncaring oil explo itation which results in to gas flaring, oil spills, seepage from
drilling rigs, waste from petro-chemical companies which are not adequately assessed.
The current civilian government have the national objective of increasing the Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) by 10%, reduce inflation to single digit (12 per cent in 1999); drop leading rate to 4 percent and
stop the unbridled appetite for importation goods. However, inflation stood at 18.9 per cent in
December 2001, and reduced only 3 per cent to 15.5 percent in 2002, while the population continues to
grow. A series of factors according to the government have coalesce to cause the non-realization of the
objectives and these are:
activities of past military governments
ethnic and religious conflicts
extreme dependence on government for the provision of every thing to the people.
Low technological base.
Drop in projected oil revenue due to cut in OPEC quota.
Political conflicts in law making houses.
Utomi (1998) pointed out that ‘in Nigeria, the political culture was a scramble for a share of the
“national cake” a phenomenon euphemistically describe as bureaucratic prebendalism, goal
displacement, was rampant as witnessed in the wake of the ban of wheat imports ostensibly to halt the
drain of limited foreign exchange which was channelled into wheat imports’. The political and
economic situations in the country do not show any sign of ethics and the contemporary environmental
management strategies also do not emphasis ethical issues as it focus only on corporate and individual
gains from exploitation of the environment. Mabogunje (1985, cited by Aina and Salau, 1992) stated
that ‘under the stress of poverty, population pressure and uncertain political conditions it will be so easy
for people to become so exigent, worrying only about what to get out of the environment for their
immediate needs and uses, without caring very much for the consequences especially for succeeding
ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS AND MANAGEMENT IN NIGERIA.
The protection and renewal of the environment for the present and future generation is supposed to be of
paramount importance to the various arms of government. However, in Nigeria, the different regions
have suffered considerably from the effect of environmental degradation caused by lack of socially
responsible environmental management practices by the government and large corporations.
Environmental / ecological problems such as coastal and soil erosion, flooding, deforestation, oil
spillage and gas pollution through wasteful flaring have made it impossible to maximise the use of land
in the country because most of the land area has suffered serious degradation and as such could not be
put into proper use Nigeria like many other Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries have continue to loss
valuable hectares of lands to urbanization, agriculture and industrialization whose side effects often
cause the degradation of the few available land area (see table 1).
The way productive lands are been lost can be likened to eating the seedcorn i.e. borrowing if not
stealing from the future in order to finance present overconsumption. We have allowed big corporations
to exploit our resources for profits and while the poor also continue to degrade their environment due to
spiraling poverty and unequal access to resources.
Table1: LAND AREA AND USE IN AFRICA 1982-84, 1992-94
Crop land as
Other Land &
land % change
as % of
Source: African Development Indicator 2000, World Bank.
Although, many has envisioned an economic system that improved as costs were reduced, but now are
confronted by a system that degraded overtime, as witnessed today. In Nigeria, because of the poor state
(economic and social, status) of majority of the people, they are dependent on the government for the
provision of infrastructures and also the management of the environment. The people always want
things to be done free or at cheap prices and this has led to the subordination of social and
environmental values. Large corporations with big monies often support and install corrupt government
that pass repressive laws that do not have feel neither of the ecosystem nor for the people living in it.
Countless examples of blatant disregard for both national and international environmental
agreement and commonsense resulting in the deterioration of the environment are found in Nigeria and
most of these environmental offenses were often perpetrated knowingly with forethought of their
consequences but when there is no moral or ethical values to guide the perpetrators, they commit their
offences with impunity. Hawken (1993), stated that ‘proponents of socially responsible business are
making an outstanding effort at reforming the tired old ethics of commerce’. However, the poor
conditions of countries like Nigeria has ensured and given the polluting corporations to produce,
advertise, expand and use up resources all in the name of investment to encourage economic growth.
Responsible industry, enlighten business or corporate citizenship all boils down to ethics in the
environment. It entails ways of reducing waste or air pollution through greater efficiency, and better of
treatment of the environment and it also involves the various ways to modify internal processes in
industries to prevent pollution and enhance efficiency of energy and material input. Environmental
ethics is to prevent flagrant environment disregard by corporations with motives driven by profits. The
profit imperatives is often compelled by the introduction of free market economics where corporations
pursuit their profit maximization relentlessly without care for the others and the environment. In the
Niger Delta area, oil spills have become endemic and routine, polluting both farmlands and fishing
stocks. However, the major oil exploration corporation in Nigeria, Shell, often argue that most spillage
were caused by sabotage and that its staff and facilities were being attacked by restive youths. The
people of the area countered this argument by saying that the corporation has consistently exaggerated
the effects of sabotage as an excuse to avoid compensation payments (Detheridge and Pepple,
Oil pollution has been with us in Nigeria since the 1970 when Nigeria had the first significant oil well
blow-outs at the Bomu and Obagi wells near Port-Harcourt (Odu, 1977 cited by Okebukola, 2001). The
frequency and intensity of such oil spillage have now become national calamity due to the political
dimensions that are threatening security in the Niger-Delta region. Recently, several cases of oil spills
have been reported and these points to the combination of carelessness and outright irresponsibility of
oil companies in oil exploration and exploitation.
In July 1998, there was an extensive oil spillage in
the Kulama community cause by Texaco, another spillage occurred in November 1998, due to Shell
facilities on the Santa Barbara flow station in Nembe area of River State, with a second spill of about
5,000 barrels of oil within a month interval at the same point. Also in 1998, there was oil spills in
December 5th and 10th at the Agip Oboma flow station and Shell Nun River respectively.
Okebukola (2001) also stressed the effect of gas flaring, which apart from generating heat has
adverse effects on the living organisms in the area, including human beings. He stated that ‘for human
beings there are health implications of sleeplessness, collectivity called psychopathological disorders,
now becoming prevalent in these areas’. Although waste disposal and management has received and
continues to receive, with heightened intensity and considerable attention from all arms of government,
the mechanisms and instruments for collection, disposal, processing treatment, recycling and utilization